Fort Frances declares state of emergency as severe weather causes floods in northwestern Ontario

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Rising floodwaters in Fort Frances, Ont., damaged homes and prompted a state of emergency. (Douglas Judson/Twitter  - image credit)
Rising floodwaters in Fort Frances, Ont., damaged homes and prompted a state of emergency. (Douglas Judson/Twitter - image credit)

More severe weather made its way through northwestern Ontario this weekend, causing flooding, road washouts, and infrastructure failures in the region.

Fort Frances Ont., about 200 kilometres from Kenora, declared a state of emergency Saturday after "critical infrastructure failure" within its wastewater treatment system.

Flooding has also been reported in residential areas around the community, according to the municipality's emergency management specialist.

"So we're just monitoring things right now … we're doing what we can to alleviate pressure on the systems for us to keep things flowing," said Patrick Briere, who also serves as the public information officer.

The Fort Frances area saw about 71 millimetres of rain through Friday and Saturday, according to Environment Canada. The high amount of precipitation was thanks to another Colorado Low system making its way through northwestern Ontario and southeastern Manitoba.

This comes after a particularly harsh winter in northwestern Ontario, that caused many weather related challenges across the region.

As some community members deal with flooded basements, the municipality control group in Fort Frances met Sunday after the crews worked through Friday and Saturday at one of six wastewater stations in the community.

Travis Rob, the municipality's manager of operations, explained the White Pine Lift Station began to flood Friday, causing issues through the wastewater system in the community.

"Friday night, through the night, when we had the majority of our rain, our White Pine lift station failed, the dry well flooded, flooding our pumps and all of the control equipment to operate that lift station," Rob said.

Cause of failure within wastewater system remains undetermined

Rob said manual pumping got underway at the lift station, which is a pump station designed to move wastewater using a collection system, and in other areas around the station.

By Sunday, a large pump was set up at the site.

"That is basically taking the role of the lift station and bypassing the flooded pumps. As of this morning, the dry well is still fully submerged. We're going to be working through the week to get it drained, to figure out why it flooded," he said.

Rob said everything at the station seemed to be working as usual when the flooding occurred, stumping operators as to how it happened in the first place.

The municipality does have a wet weather contingency plan to follow for situations like this, according to Rob, which was last used in 2014.

Town of Fort Frances/Twitter
Town of Fort Frances/Twitter

In 2014, Fort Frances, Couchiching First Nation, Rainy River and Emo all grappled with flooding from the rising waters in the Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods watershed.

"The difference between 2014 and now is that we did lose a lift station, which put a huge amount of additional stress on our system overall. So that's really the difference," Rob said.

For now, the municipality is asking residents to be cautious of their water usage, limiting things like long showers and extra loads of laundry to help alleviate pressure on the sewer system.

Certain areas of the town are also closed off due to flooding, including the Point Park area.

"Just reminding the public to stay out of the area where crews are working. We do have some crews still working in a few areas and just give them some space so that they can do their work," said Briere.

photo: Gord Ellis/CBC
photo: Gord Ellis/CBC

Road washouts were also reported by the Ministry of Transportation through the weekend due to the amount of rain, with the latest being at Highway 611 in Fort Frances by Rose Road.

Weather causes issues across the northwest

Meanwhile, a flood watch remains in place in the Thunder Bay district area according to the Lakehead Region Conservation Authority (LRCA).

The flood watch was issued Saturday, indicating the potential for flooding within specific watercourses and municipalities in the district.

According to the conservation authority, some gauges recorded over 50 millimeters of mixed precipitation over the weekend.

"The above average snowpack will absorb some of the rainfall; however, due to frozen ground conditions, run off and ponding in low lying areas is expected to increase," reads the flood watch from the LRCA.

The thunder and lightning storm that rolled through the region Friday night also caused at least one fire in the Thunder Bay area, according to the city's fire department.

Crews responded to reports of a fire around 1 a.m. Saturday in the Community Hall Road area.

Thunder Bay Fire Rescue reported a lightning strike hit near a home in the area, charring parts of the basement of the home.

No one was hurt, fire officials said.

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